Lake Maracaibo: geographical location, description, origin


Maracaibo - lagoon lake in Venezuela. Located in the intermontane tectonic basin between the Sierra de Perich ridges in the west and the Cordillera de Merida in the south and east.

In the northern part it is shallow, in the southern part the depth reaches 250 meters (it should be noted that some sources give much smaller values ​​- 50 m or even 35 m). The banks are low, swampy. The lake is connected in the north with the Venezuelan Gulf, a shallow strait (2-4 m deep) and is fed by water from many streams and rivers, the largest of which is the Catatumbo River. Maracaibo is the largest lake in South America, its area is 13 210 km² (but it is reduced due to the abundant intake of alluvium), it is also one of the oldest lakes on Earth (according to some estimates, the second oldest). Almost a quarter of the population of Venezuela lives on the shores of the lake.

The name of the lake was given during the period of colonization by the name of the local leader Mara and the word kaibo - the earth, and means "Land of Mary."


Across Lake Maracaibo lies the sea route for two ports: Maracaibo and Cabimas. The basin of Lake Maracaibo has large oil reserves, as a result of which the lake serves as a source of wealth for Venezuela. A specially dug deep channel in the lake allows ocean vessels to enter there. The 8-km General Rafael Urdaneta Bridge (construction completed in 1962), spanned between the shores of the strait, is one of the longest bridges in the world.

Maracaibo is famous for its unique natural phenomenon, known as the Katatumbo Lightning, a lightning that continuously arises for a long time in the area where the Katatumbo River flows into the lake.

History edit |Location

Interesting is the geographical location of Lake Maracaibo. This unique water formation is located between the picturesque ridges of the Cordillera de Merida, as well as the Sierra de Perich, forming a tectonic hollow. To find Lake Maracaibo, you need to go towards the Gulf of Venezuela, where you can see it by swimming along a narrow passage formed by rock formations.

Due to the fact that a very large number of freshwater rivers flow into the lake, the water has a slightly pronounced smack of salt, which is why scientists call it “brackish”. Due to its geographical location, a rather hot, but mild climate prevails on its territory, which contributes to successful farming. For the most part, sugarcane is grown here on the south side, but on the western banks you can see endless cocoa plantations, one of the best in the world. In addition, fruit trees occupy a rather large area on its territory and no less significant space is reserved for grazing animals.

History of the origin of the lake

As for history, to date, reliable information about what the origin of Lake Maracaibo is associated with has not been found, despite such a long period of its existence. Several different legends are known, and which one is more reliable is difficult to state. One tells that during the military battles with the colonial troops, a tribal leader named Mara was wounded, and when they saw this, the Indians started shouting “Mara koy,” which translates as “Mara fell.” Therefore, the lake was named after the brave Indian leader. According to another version, the name Marakaibo lake owes its direct location to the marshy area of ​​Maara Ivo, meaning “Snake place”.

From a geographical point of view, the appearance of a reservoir is explained as follows. A large number of mountain peaks caused subsidence of soil between them. As a result, a huge pit arose. Melting glaciers, many mountain streams rushing into it, filled the lake with water.

Natural resources

Given the fact in which country Maracaibo Lake is located, it is quite clear that the main natural wealth is significant oil deposits that are located on the territory of the reservoir both in the coastal zone and in its water area. Residents knew about the presence of oil for a long time, but because of their illiteracy, they used it mainly as a remedy for gastrointestinal diseases. Until in 1539, a local doctor sent several barrels to his colleagues in Europe. Until then, the pirates used the oily liquid as tar, coating their ships.

After 300 years, oil production became quite in demand, and massive drilling of wells began on the territory of the lake. To date, Venezuela is the largest exporter of black gold in the world. Thanks to this natural wealth, the state ensures its economic stability.


In addition to oil, other natural resources that attract South America are located on the territory. Lake Maracaibo is famous for its amazing nature with its majestic green spaces and numerous fauna. One of the main attractions is the Chienagas del Catatumbu National Park, located in the southwestern part, where, in addition to exotic vegetation, rare species of howler monkeys and other no less interesting representatives of the animal world live.

Lake phenomenon

The unique phenomenon taking place in Venezuela is considered a natural phenomenon that attracts tourists from all over the world who dream of seeing it with their own eyes. In the place where the Katatumba River flows into Lake Karakaibo, after sunset there is a natural light show, which creates numerous lightning bolts. During the year, for about 150 days, one can observe a similar spectacle called the Katatumba Lighthouse. These soundless flashes descend into the silent expanses of water, and they can be observed at a distance of about 400 kilometers.

Thanks to this, Lake Maracaibo is also called a lighthouse, since it serves as a guide for passing ships. According to scientists, this phenomenon is preceded by an excessive concentration of methane in the air, which is released from a large area covered by swamps. Such a light show often occurs in bad weather and can sometimes be observed for 7-10 hours. Locals counted up to 300 lightning flashes within an hour.

Find for tourists

Many lovers of exotic, traveling around the colorful places of the planet, are looking for Lake Maracaibo on the map, laying their own route. The extraordinary nature of these places allows you to enjoy the incredible atmosphere. The hospitality of the local population makes it possible to spend an unforgettable vacation in Venezuela. A unique natural phenomenon only adds to the mainland popularity. For those who wish to spend a truly fabulous vacation, cozy houses built on the water are provided, where at night you can see a local phenomenon, lying in a hammock in the open air. In addition, to explore all the surroundings, tourists are offered excursions on pleasure boats.

Maracaibo population

Initially, a small village was located on the territory near the lake, where the locals mostly engaged in agriculture and fishing. But after the opening of the first well and subsequent extensive oil production, residents from other cities began to arrive in it.

Today, thanks to technological progress, the village is considered a millionaire. Agriculture is still flourishing here, a huge seaport has been built to export oil. To date, more than a quarter of the total population of Venezuela lives in the territory that surrounds Lake Maracaibo, and most of them are different Indian tribes. Here you can see the numerous buildings that are built in accordance with their customs and culture, which adds color to this place and, most importantly, all this is built on the water using wooden piles.

Maracaibo on the world map

In the west, Maracaibo is surrounded by the Sierra de Perih ridge (Venezuela and Colombia). In the south and southeast - Cordillera de Merida (Venezuela), and in the east - the coast of Venezuela. Altitude exceeds 4600 m.

Geography of the lake

Many rivers flow into Lake Maracaibo, the most important of which is the Catatumbo - a transport artery that serves to transport goods from the surrounding areas and the Colombian-Venezuelan highlands.

The water in the southern part of the lake is fresh, but due to the impact of the tides, the northern side is somewhat brackish. In addition to the south, the lake is quite shallow, and is surrounded by marshy lowlands. A shallow at the mouth of Maracaibo, extending approximately 26 km (16 miles), has for many years limited navigation for ships less than 4 meters (13 feet) in length. After dredging was completed in the 1930s, the depth of the lake increased to 8 meters (25 feet).

In 1957, the construction of a stone waveguide 3 km (2 mi) long and a 11-meter (35 ft) canal were completed, which were to increase the patency of ocean vessels and tankers.

How to get to the lake

La Chinita International Airport (MAR) operates in Maracaibo, which also operates flights to Miami with American Airlines.

Bus connections have been established with Caracas, San Cristobal, Merida and the border of Colombia.

The lake attracts many tourists thanks to the 10-hour tropospheric thunderstorms, occurring here from 140 to 160 nights a year. Lightning strikes often reach 5 km. You will not see this anywhere else. Along the northern coast of Maracaibo, there are dry tropical forests. The region also has broad-leaved and moist equatorial forests, which are adjacent to the plateaus and savannahs.

Weather and climate

Lake Maracaibo is famous for its ongoing lightning. They have been known about them since the inception of writing. Locals call this natural phenomenon “Relámpago del Catatumbo” (Catatumbo lightning). It is named after the Katatumbo River, which flows into the lake. Lightning is concentrated over the estuary.

Interesting fact! Sailors call the thunderstorm “Faro de Maracaibo” or “Maracaibo Lighthouse” because, like a lighthouse, flashes are clearly visible in the Gulf of Venezuela and on clear nights in the Caribbean.

Thunderstorm is a kind of source of local pride. Zulia, one of Venezuela's 23 states, boasts Relaympago del Catatumbo - lightning bolts depicted on the flag and coat of arms.

Maracaibo has a so-called semi-arid climate. This is one of the hottest places in Venezuela. True, the eponymous lake somewhat softens the weather and temperature. All year round there is + 29C. This indicator is above average. The maximum temperature does not exceed + 40C and does not fall below 20C. Dry, hot weather in the summer months becomes very wet.

The best time to travel, as in other parts of the region, is the winter dry season (December - end of March). The air is hot during the day, but at the same time fresh and light, and at night there is a pleasant coolness. The worst time to travel to Maracaibo is August (high summer), because at this time the weather is both wet and rainy.

Interesting fact! The epic poem La Dragonetea tells the story of how, in 1595, ships under the command of Sir Francis Drake attempted an unexpected night attack on the Spanish colonial city of Maracaibo. A night watchman noticed the silhouettes of Drake's ships, lit by lightning, and notified the Spanish garrison stationed in the city about this. Thanks to this warning, a premature attack was thwarted.

Animal world

The local fauna is represented by a mouse and possum. The endemic birds that live here include several varieties of hummingbirds, swifts, sparrows and cardinals. There are many species of fish in the lake, of which 52% are rare, although some are common almost throughout South America. Endemics - catfish, swordfish, cuttlefish, as well as some types of shellfish.

The fish fauna of Maracaibo consists of representatives of nine orders and 34 families of individual endemic groups. Currently, 127 species live in the lake basin, of which 66 (52%) are endemic. Most fish survive as best they can and are limited to larger rivers flowing into the now polluted reservoir. The fauna has historically been associated with representatives living in the Magdalena and Orinoco basins. It is estimated that more than 185 species of fish live here. Like Magdalena, there are no representatives of several endemic groups in the Maracaibo basin, which are usually found in Orinoco and the Amazon.


Maracaibo is the largest lake in South America, with an area of ​​13,210 square kilometers. Mountains surround it on three sides. The water here is very warm year round. Typically, temperatures range from + 28C to + 31C (from 82F to 88F). Thus, the lake is a ready source of heat and humidity, providing the proper level of convection.

Maracaibo along with Katatumbo lightning attracts tourists and scientists from all over the world. They come here not only to get the necessary information, but also to fear the unsurpassed natural phenomenon. The country is making every effort to develop this region and turn it into an ecotourism zone. Thus, the authorities are trying to maximize the benefits of the general hype around lightning. This was not easy, as the region shamefully ignores the presence of many drug dealers and armed partisan groups, and the US State Department advises against traveling to Venezuela. Nevertheless, given the immense power and beauty of this incredible natural phenomenon, for some reason the question arises as to whether it is worth the risk for the sake of traveling.

Photo and description

Lake Maracaibo is located in the western part of Venezuela, in the state of Zulia. This brackish body of water with an area of ​​about 13,820 sq km is the largest in Latin America, occupying 19th place among the largest lakes in the world. Geological studies have shown that the age of the lake is from 20 to 36 million years, it is considered one of the two oldest on the planet. In the northern part, the lake is connected with the Venezuelan Gulf by an isthmus 55 km long. Numerous rivers flow into it, the largest of which is Catatumbo.

The Maracaibo basin is one of the largest oil fields in the world with more than 15,000 drilling rigs, and it has been producing since 1914. An amazing feature of this area is “Lightning Katatumbo” - a phenomenon in which lightning flashes without thunder form in high layers of the atmosphere. The reasons for this anomaly have not yet been elucidated; it is assumed that the climatic conditions of the lake swamps contribute to this phenomenon, which, according to environmental experts, generates about 10% of the planet’s atmospheric ozone.

The eastern shore of Lake Maracaibo is connected to the western through the Bridge of General Rafael Urdanet, 8678 meters in length. At the time of launch in 1962, the bridge had the longest pylons in the world, two specially dug channels in each direction of movement, which allows passage of ocean vessels up to 45 meters in length to the lake.

Maracaibo is an exceptional phenomenon in world geography: it is the only lake connected to the sea and prone to ebbs and flows.Alonso de Ojeda discovered this lake in 1499, and observing the ebb and flow, he gave the area the name Venezuela (Little Venice). Aboriginal Anu, who lived on its banks in stilt houses, called the reservoir Kokuyvakoa. Ancient settlements in the southern and southwestern parts of the lake still exist.

In the 17th century, Maracaibo was the subject of numerous pirate raids, including under the leadership of Grammon and Henry Morgan. During the war of independence, several fights took place near the reservoir, the most important of which was the battle in 1823.

Lake Maracaibo has quite oxygenated waters, is rich in algae, due to which various species of animals and fish live here, such as heron, pelican, crocodile, iguana, catfish, sea bass, mullet, armadillo fish, sometimes dolphins, as well as several species endemic fish.

Maracaibo Lake

Let's start with Lake Maracaibo. It is the largest lake in all of South America. It is located in the northwest of the country in the state of Zulia, in the north of the continent.

Calling this attraction a lake, we are deceiving you a little. In fact, this is not a lake, but a sea bay in the Gulf of Venezuela. It turns out like a bay in the bay or a sea lagoon. Despite this, in the world this place is still called a lake. Below you can see how Lake Maracaibo looks on the map.

Theories of the name of the lake

There are two main versions of the appearance of the name of the lake, and both are associated with the leader of a local tribe named Mara. According to one of them, Maracaibo is translated as “the land of Mara”, since “kaibo” in the local language means “land”. According to another, the name was transformed from the exclamation “Mara kayo!”, Which means Mara fell or Mara is killed. At the beginning of the 16th century, a war was fought between the local Indians and the Spanish conquerors and during the fierce battle the leader was killed, but his name lives on for centuries. Although according to some reports, there is another version, according to which the name Maracaibo arose from the surrounding swamps, called by the Indians "maara ivo" - the place of snakes.

Discovery of Lake Maracaibo by Europeans

The first European to discover the lake was Alonso de Ojeda. In 1499, during the Age of Great Geographical Discoveries, Ojeda's ship entered the lake, and Alonso was very surprised at the sight of the houses of local residents. The houses were built on stilts directly above the lake and connected to each other and to the shore with wooden flooring. It reminded the European of Venice, and he exclaimed “Oh, Venice!” Which means “Oh, little Venice!” It is believed that from here came the name of the country that we now call Venezuela.

30 years after the Europeans visited the lake, a port of the same name was founded on its western shore. At the beginning of the 20th century, huge reserves of oil were discovered in the lake, the production of which began in 1914. Cities on the shores of the lake began to develop rapidly, and now a fourth of the country's population lives on the coast of Maracaibo.

Raphael Urdaneta Bridge

In 1962, a bridge was built across the strait, named after General Rafael Urdaneta. The bridge, by the way, can be easily added to the sights of the world, because it is one of the longest in the world. Its length is 8700 m. In its central part, 5 spans are constructed, each 235 meters long. In order for large ships to enter the lake, special work was carried out to deepen the bottom, as a result of which the depth in the fairway increased to 14 meters.

Catatumbo Lightning

There is another, perhaps the biggest and most mystical feature of Lake Maracaibo, is its famous and hardly explainable lightning (so we got to the second attraction). This natural phenomenon is called “Katatumbo Lightning” and is a gorgeous and almost continuous lightning that occurs at an altitude of about 5 kilometers above the confluence of the Katatumbo River into the lake.

Have you seen a thunderstorm? Definitely seen. So you can safely multiply by 100, or even by 1000, the amount of lightning that you saw. The fact is that lightnings at the mouth of the Katatumbo River appear at night for about 160 days a year and about 10 hours a day. That is, almost about six months, every night you can watch this unforgettable firework. On average, lightning strikes about 300 times in an hour. Someone even estimated that during the year lightning appears about 1,200,000 times.

Miracles do not end there. Katatumbo lightning is not accompanied by thunder, so you will not hear a lot of noise. The discharges appearing in the sky are not the most ordinary, since most of them do not reach the earth, that is, bright zigzags cut the sky in completely unpredictable directions. And all this happens as scheduled, usually after midnight.

The light of these lightnings is visible over 400 kilometers, so they are also called the “Katatumbo Lighthouse”. And their glow is so bright that once even saved the city of Maracaibo from the attack of the famous pirate Francis Drake. In 1595, he made an attempt to capture the city at night, but the Katatumbo lightning thwarted an insidious plan, illuminating his team and giving the inhabitants of the city an opportunity to repel the attack.

Catatumbo lightning plays a very important role for the entire planet. Did you hear the smell of ozone after a thunderstorm? Now imagine how much ozone is produced in this place. As much as 10%, so to speak, of the “production” of ozone occurs precisely at the Katatumbo “factory”.

Theories of the Catatumbo Lightning

Local Indians believed that lightning occurs when fireflies collide with the souls of deceased ancestors. But scientists think differently and put forward a number of their versions.

  1. Warm and moist air masses from the Caribbean pestilence (the basin of which includes the Gulf of Venezuela) are found with cold flows from the Andes. As a result, vortices are formed that contribute to the electrification of air and the appearance of lightning
  2. The surrounding area is very boggy. Swamps emit methane, which rises upward. The gas distribution does not always occur evenly, and the concentration of ions in the air contributes to the ignition of the gas and the formation of electrical breakdown
  3. Some scientists suggest that uranium, abundant in swamps and entering the atmosphere, is to blame.

In any case, researchers cannot yet agree on this issue.

An amazing and magical phenomenon invariably attracts a lot of tourists.


Spanish Lago de maracaibo

A picture from space (June 26, 2004). Green lines on the lake - duckweed.
Absolute height0 m
Dimensions210 × up to 121 km
Square13,280 km²
Volume245 km³
Deepest34 m
Average depth26 m
Salinity1000–2000 mg / l
Swimming pool
Pool area89,000 km²
Flowing riversCatatumbo, Palmar, Anon
9 ° 48′23 ″ s w. 71 ° 31′57 ″ s d.HGYOL
A country
  • Venezuela
StatesZulia, Trujillo, Merida